The news from the UN climate talks in Poland, COP24, has generally been disheartening. The US, Russian, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait blocked a statement that the conference 'welcomed' the IPCC's research into the impacts of exceeding 1.5C warming. The Polish hosts have chosen fossil fuel companies to sponsor the talks. They have been accused of silencing civil society voices and of arguing on the world stage for a just transition that they are not prepared to implement at home.
But discussions about Just Transition and the role of unions have never been more central. Philip Pearson reports from Katowice below, on behalf of the Greener Jobs Alliance - there is further information in their latest newsletter.
Led by the Polish Presidency, the United Nations adopted the Just Transition Declaration at the opening of this two-week climate change conference. It’s a remarkable turnaround for us, getting Just Transition demands into the mainstream debates here. But, the declaration is not legally binding on governments, though as Allison Tate of the ITUC told over 100 union delegates here in Poland, the ‘highly political’ statement will oblige governments to up their game and consult with unions on national climate strategies they are now bound to develop. ‘Our task is to hold governments to this commitment, today, tomorrow and every day that follows.’
Significantly, international bodies representing employers and local government have swung their weight behind the UN Just Transition Declaration.
A business guest speaker at the ITUC strategy day (8 December), Peter Glynn from the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), said his organisation supported the declaration, the first time it had mentioned labour issues in its work on climate change. When pressed to explain that ‘labour market reforms’ were needed to help deliver massive new investment, he said that workplaces will only be able to adapt to low carbon technologies when the workforce is adequately equipped. This meant massive programmes creating jobs and new skills, with ‘effective planning involving employers, unions and national institutions.’
Delegates pointed out that the right to organise and collective bargaining were essential to a fair and Just Transition, and asked Glynn to take these messages back to the ICC.
The local governments’ statement on Just Transition is available here.
Update: the sentences of all three men have been quashed on appeal as 'manifestly excessive'
Trade union members open letter
As trade unionists, we the undersigned, stand in solidarity with the four non-violent anti-fracking activists who have been convicted of 'causing a public nuisance', three of whom are now serving custodial sentences. We strongly condemn this judgement and the dangerous precedent it sets for the right to protest and take non-violent direct action against threats to the climate and the environment.
These are by far the longest prison sentences imposed on activists defending the environment since those jailed for the Mass Trespass in 1932. It can only be seen as politically motivated in support of a government that has shown it is prepared to ride roughshod over the democratic rights of citizens to achieve an end for which it has no popular support.
This is a clear example of the state acting in the interests of big business in the face of opposition to fracking by the community at Preston New Road, and across the UK more widely. It is important to recall the concerns raised by the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Association and Assembly in his report in 2016 regarding the "collusion between law enforcement authorities and private companies" in relation to fracking protests.
At the TUC Congress in 2018, the trade union movement called for a moratorium on fracking in England which has already been stopped in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Many of us believe it should be banned in full. There is no safe fracking. It is not safe for the environment, water supplies, citizens or workers, or in addressing climate change concerns.